few years back (1996), a former subscriber to my Concertina
and Squeezebox Magazine sent me
a copy of a page from E.
Annie Proulx’s latest novel, Accordion
Crimes. It ran like this:
“Driving down to the diner
morning, bumping over the
railroad where a track gang was taking a break, wiping their mouths
napkins, dropping their empty soft drink cans and paper coffee cups
trash bucket on the flatcar, he switched on the radio - it was NPR; his
had used the truck after supper - and heard John Townley singing
End" to the accompaniment of his rare Dipper Shantyman concertina of
Indian cocobolo wood and goatskin, with handmade reeds, the ends fitted
nautical engravings of stout mermaids and cresting waves, the air
button a tiny
arm of polished bone which gleamed against the dark wood like the arm
of a deus ex machina. The rich, oboelike
tones set off Townley's voice, but in midsyllable, "and the great seas
ro--," Dick shut him off. Those sea songs ended only in drowning and
Crimes, p. 368, Annie Proulx
Annie Proulx (l.) described
concertina she'd never seen (r., with now-missing bone arm), along with
more than just an author’s
passing reference to an available recording she had heard. It was more
wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”.
because Annie Proulx and I had never met, and she had never seen me
seen my one-of-a-kind concertina, which she accurately described to the
detail. But there’s more…I’ve been heard
virtually every network except
NPR, plus there is no such song anywhere in traditional or historical
– this song of exactly that title which I
copyrighted with MCA Music Publishing in 1971, which has never been
or even performed, ever, until now, seventeen years after her book was
published. Composed on keyboard, it had never seen the light of day,
and I didn’t
even have a concertina arrangement (until, of course, I read her
now it does).
corresponded with Annie when this first
came to my attention, and she was duly amazed and hoped I would record
send her a copy to see if it was what she had imagined (she swore she
me sing it). That was back in 1996, but other events intervened to put
to the side.
to top the strangeness, a
few years later,
a friend of mine at the
Library of Congress checked the status of my song copyrights for me and
that out of all my several dozen songs from the early 1970s, this and
one was renewed for its second 28-year run (under the old law) in 1999.
whom, I have no idea, as there’s no record.
at Land's End, there by the sea
of man's ends plainly you can see
all before you fade away,
as the land fades into grey.
beside you, blown through the snow,
winds chide you, slowly you may go
still and journey out to sea,
turning homeward come to me.
is no help ahead,
clouds about you spread,
can't you turn your head and see me
by you all through the land,
you cry you're standing in my hand,
wipe away those tears and see,
Follow your journey's end to me.
1971 by John Townley, pub. By
Listen to it: May
mp3 performance here,
home-recorded on a Fostex MR-8 MkII,
aforementioned Dipper F/C Anglo concertina, Yamaha PSR-215 keyboard,
polycarbonate Vibrato alto saxophone.
There are many places around the globe called Land’s End, the
best known being the desolate but
scenic southern tip of Cornwall, UK (above, left, marked "A"), where it
actually very seldom
snows. But the Land’s End (76N25, 122W45) I was really writing
about is on the west coast of Prince Patrick Island,
Inuvik, NT, Canada,
at the extreme Northwestern tip of the Northwest Passage (above,
right, circled in red).
The domain of polar
bears and seals, from there stretches only the frozen waste of the
Arctic Ocean, as in picture (below) from Prince Patrick Island of sea
ice at Land's
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